Thursday, July 31, 2008

MACC Review

Musicians Against Childhood Cancer (MACC) was founded after the untimely death of Phyllis and Darrel Adkins’ daughter Mandy from a brain stem tumor in November of 2000. Mandy had been treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, and the Adkins, who had been promoting a bluegrass festival for many years, decided out of their grief and gratitude to devote the future of their festival to helping provide support for the hospital. From this commitment, Musicians Against Childhood Cancer was formed in the Spring of 2000. Since that time, the festival has donated $432,524.33 to St. Jude and to the YMCA. The festival held in Mandy Adkins’ honor and memory committed to raising money for St. Jude has developed into one of the very finest bluegrass festivals in the country, one that brings together great bands, musicians put together in unusual combinations, and a spirited community for a superlative four day event.

Darrel Adkins

Phyllis Adkins

Camping Area

Frequent Pumpouts

Kid Friendly
MACC has been held since its inception in 2000 at Hoover Y Park just south of Columbus, Ohio in Lockbourne. Prior to that Adkins and his wife had promoted a festival called The Bluegrass Classic for many years at Frontier Ranch. Hoover Y Park is a seventy acre facility whose history goes back to the early twentieth century. Featuring vast fields for RV and day trip parking with 20 Amp electric hookups available for a limited number of campers, the park offers a very large performance area with plenty of shade. The four day festival runs from Wednesday through Saturday, permitting visitors to remain through its conclusion on Saturday night without having to leave early on Sunday, as is true at many events. This allows the festival to culminate in a grand finale, the MACC Opry with most fans staying until the very end.

Shaded and Sunny Seating Area
Dance Area

Out on Vendors Row

The main performance area is spacious enough to permit a very large stage with seemingly endless lawns in front of it for attendees to place their lawn chairs. Fans seem spread out, because they choose to place chairs in shady spots, but there’s plenty of room for families to put out blankets or tarps on the ground, sit in circles around coolers while they play cards and drink a cold beverage, and listen to the music, or chat without bothering people who are more serious listeners. A good selection of food vendors is located to the rear of the performance area with band tents down the right side for their merchandise tables. Two spacious parking lots permit plenty of day parking. Behind the stage is an area reserved for performers and volunteers where food is served all day, and musicians can hang out with each other. MACC is a festival where musicians come and stay for a while, getting time to visit with each other at their leisure as well as to mix with fans. Musicians performing at MACC volunteer their time, so Darrel Adkins makes certain they are comfortable and have an enjoyable time.

Volunteers Take a Break

Preparing the Stage

And In Performance
The stage is large, featuring the best stage lighting anywhere. The sound system, coordinated by Jim Winchester’s Gem Sound and provided by Soundwave, a full service sound production company. Sound engineer Tom Feller assures the quality of each performance. Soundwave’s list of former clients runs from rap to rock to country to bluegrass. Using what are known as line array speakers, the system (to my very limited understanding) apparently is capable of delivering sound much more accurately to all sections of an audience without ever having to overwhelm anyone with too much volume. Don’t ask me to explain how, but I can tell you the sound at MACC was clearer and more easily heard both close up and at a distance than any other sound system I’ve ever heard. Musicians I talked with all said the sound, from their point of view, allowed them to hear their own music in order to improve their playing. The audience was treated to the clearest, most listenable sound found anywhere.

Emcee John Tewell

Emcee Melany Tewell Shauver

Artists Back Stage (Bill Emerson & The Sweet Dixie Band)

Randy Kohrs Backstage
The job of emcee is often under-rated and underappreciated. John Tewell and his daughter Melany Shauver, through four days of work kept the proceedings moving along with style and humor. Emcees often manage to make their work about themselves, at MACC the work of the emcees was always about the musicians and the music. Darrel Adkins maintains the festival is always about the musicians, the music, the cause they serve, and the audience. In 2006, the recording Celebration of Life, containing 36 songs recorded live at MACC, won the IBMA Album of the Year award. The musicians have taken ownership of the charitable goals of the festival and contribute their time, their music, and their strong support to the memory of Mandy Adkins, who many of the musicians knew and loved. On Saturday afternoon, Alan Bibey of Grasstowne sang “Side by Side,” a song about his grandparents, which Mandy dearly loved. Her sister Tami stood near the stage while Alan sang it. He later said he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get through it. This small incident typifies the spirit of this festival.

Bo McCarty and Sammy Shelor

Backstage Moment - Bradley Walker, Carl Jackson, Harley Allen

The Saturday night MACC Opry was the culminating event of the festival as musicians from many bands joined together on stage to sing and pick together. In the days of Bill Monroe, early festivals ended with a grand finale. The MACC Opry provides such an opportunity as we saw Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, Bradley Walker, Chris Stapleton, Steve Gulley and more singing and picking together. As we drove home to New Hampshire on Sunday, we spent a good portion of the day listening to CDs we had bought and talking about the wonders of the week just past. As volunteers, we had been privileged to experience this festival from the inside, but as fans we knew we had seen and experienced the best.


So Long 'Til Next Year

MACC 2009
July 22 - 25

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

MACC Children's Band

I've posted two albums from MACC of the MACC Children's Band here. One contains pictures from a rehearsal and the performance during Friday night's MACC Opry. The second album has pictures from Saturday morning's performance as well as the evening MACC Opry. The performance level of these kids was exceptional. As Darrel said from the stage, we have nothing to fear about the future of bluegrass as long as there are kids like these learning to pick and jam. I particularly want to thank my wife Irene for taking many of these pictures. Many times during this wonderful festival my time was stretched too thin, and Irene filled in with very good camera work. I've made the pictures moderately high resolution, so you may be able to download them to print them for yourself or to order prints from Google, but it may take a little longer for the albums to load. I don't make any money from these myself, and I'm not sure what it costs to order prints from one of the three providers Google suggests. I've never used Google albums before, but if this works out well, I may try to use them again. Please let me know how it works for you.

Monday, July 28, 2008

MACC - Saturday: And it All Ends with a Bang!

Saturday at MACC (Musicians Against Childhood Cancer) had it all - great performances, hot weather, a little rain (very little), and a hard time finishing because no one there wanted it to end. The day started off with a performance by the MACC Children's Band. This large group was so impressive that I'll be posting a separate web album with pictures of these talented and attactive kids within a day or two. Meanwhile, here's one picture, which will have to do for now.

Kenny and Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith's lovely voice and Kenny's superb flat picking for both gospel and secular music offer listeners a solid performance each time out. Supported by a strong band of very young musicians, they deliver good value.
Amanda Smith

Kenny Smith

Aaron Williams

Trent Callicut

Trent Callicut

Zach McLamb

Bradley Walker

It's tempting to say Bradley Walker suffers from muscular dystrophy, but suffers just isn't the correct word because Bradley doesn't suffer. Bradley is afflicted with this crippling disease and he triumphs over it. Watching Bradley sing from his wheel chair offers inspiration for everyone, but what quickly becomes most important is that this delightful and engaging young man can flat out sing. In the end, it's Bradley's wonderful baritone voice and the deep emotional contact he makes with his audience that really counts.

Bradley Walker

Jenni Lynn Gardner

Patton Wages

Dustin Benson

David Babb

Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time

Larry Cordle is one of those legenday performers who's so busy as a songwriter he doesn't perform often or widely. His soulful lyrics and energetic performance light up an audience. Cordle's list of writing credits is too extensive to go through here. His band, consisting of regular members and equally able fill-ins supported his singing at the highest level. Cordle's music spans from bluegrass through a variety of country styles, but the band at MACC was pure bluegrass.

Larry Cordle

Kim Gardner
Booie Beach

Jon Weisberger

Don Rigsby

Richard Bailey

Jenee Keener


Since it was founded a little over eighteen months ago, Grasstowne has established a reputation for elegant bluegrass performance. Their instrumental work is almost without peer and Steve Gulley's voice among the very best in bluegrass. The band has reached the second round of IBMA nominations in thirteen categories and bears close watching in the next few months. Jason Davis looks like a good dark horse in the banjo category, while Alan Bibey has been too long overlooked for his distinctive mandolin style.

Phil Leadbetter

Steve Gulley
Alan Bibey

Jamey Booher

Jason Davis

Ronnie Bowman & The Committee

Ronnie Bowman's seemingly ageless face and beatific smile belie his many years spent with top bands like the Lonesome River Band and Lost & Found. In recent years he has excelled as a singer/songwriter, but his bluegrass chops are genuine and his performance at MACC was superb. He performs with grace and style.

Ronnie Bowman

Garnet Imes Bowman

Daren Shumaker

Donica Christiansen

The Harley Allen Band

A quick look at Harley Allen's web site explains why he isn't seen too often on the bluegrass circuit - he's just too busy writing great country songs. That's good for Harley, but too bad for bluegrass fans, as his act is amusing, filled with good music, and a treat for anyone who gets to hear him sing and see him work. The son of fabled bluegrass star Red Allen, Harley more than carries on the tradition.
Harley Allen

David Harvey

Debbie Nims Allen

Jan Harvey

Jon Weisberger

Dean Berner

Bradley Walker, Carl Jackson, and Harley Allen
Randy Kohrs & The Lites

Randy Kohrs, whose roots are deep in bluegrass, clearly wishes to expand his appeal to a broad range of audiences. He clearly signalled his intention to this pretty conservative audience by bringing the only drums of the festival on stage. As always, his set was intense, fast paced, and professional. That Kohrs wishes to broaden his audience can hardly be criticized. That some fans won't be open enough to condone changes in band configuration and sound from performers is something they will have to examine in themselves.

Randy Kohrs

Ashley Brown

Mike Sumner

Elio Giordano

Clay Hess

Chris Wood

MACC Auction to Benefit St. Jude

The Steel Drives

In the year or so since the Steel Drivers have come to public consciousness, they have blazed a path of soulful, R&B based bluegrass designed to appeal to a younger generation of bluegrass fans while still hoping to retain a more traditional audience. Their reception at MACC suggests they mostly succeed. Chris Stapleton's voice is complemented by Tammy Rogers startling fiddling and remarkable harmony. Their sound further blurs the distinction between alternative country and bluegrass sounds.

Tammy Rogers

Richard Bailey and Mike Henderson

The MACC Opry

Each year Darrel Adkins brings in great songwriters like the remarkable Carl Jackson, Shawn Camp, and Jerry Salley (who because of a family illness was unable to participate this year), Larry Cordle to take the stage with first rate bluegrass performers. Together they meld the work of great songwriters to the sound of great musicians to provide a rousing finale for the the event. Here's a selection of pictures from the Opry.

Nightime Appearance by MACC Children's Band

Carl Jackson and Larry Cordle
Jim Van Cleve and Steve Gulley

Alan Bibey, Carl Jackson, Shawn Camp
Ronnie Bowman and Chris Stapleton

Ronnie Bowman and Shawn Camp

And so another Musicians Against Childhood Cancer festival comes to an end. I'll be writing an overall revue within the next couple of days as well as posting a larger portfolio of pictures of the kids in the MACC children's band